Wednesday, August 22, 2012

My Free Trip to New York

I just booked a FREE trip to New York. It was so free, that when I called United to make the reservation, they didn't even take a credit card! As anyone who has tried to redeem a "free" mileage ticket would know, free is rare. Even when you use miles to pay for a trip you still get charged for applicable taxes and fees. Typically a domestic mileage ticket will still cost you $5-10, and for international, that can cost hundreds.

It is no big secret that United has experienced their share of problems recently since the merger with Continental. United leads the industry is delays and customer complaints. As a result, I happen to have collected a few e-certificates for various amounts ($100, $150 and a few $200's) from Customer Relations over the last year. Many of those vouchers were unsolicited. For example last month, when my flight from LAX to Maui was delayed about 5 hours for mechanical reasons (which BTW wasn't fun with a 5-month old in tow), I arrived on the ground in OGG to find that there were 3 e-certs, one for each member of my family, waiting in my email inbox without even having to contact United. I guess that in itself is an indication of how great things are going at the new United. You don't even have to bother complaining anymore; it's like they already know.

So in order to make my goal of Premier 1K this year, I needed to do a mileage run (or two, or three, or four...). When I found a good fare between Sacramento and New York for about $300, I thought it would be an excellent opportunity to use some of those certs to pick up some valuable EQM's (Elite qualifying miles, or as United now calls them post-merger, Premier Qualifying Miles). It also was a trip that didn't require me to be away from home overnight, which, with a small child at home, I also something I like. At first I contemplated using a $200 cert which would make the trip around $100, but not wanting to spend that much cash just to fly somewhere and turn around and come home, I figured I'd book my trip as a series or one-way tickets and use a $150 e-cert in each direction. The fare I found was $163 each way between SMF and JFK for mid-September. When I called to actually ticket (because the certs are almost impossible to redeem online), the agent told me the fare had actually dropped, therefore the base fares (before taxes and fees) was less than the $150 e-certs. She then said because of that, for whatever reason, they couldn't charge me taxes on a fare that basically had no value, so there you go, that is how I ended up with a free trip.

You may have heard there is no such thing as a free lunch, and that very well may be true, as I am booked in coach at the moment, but I'm on the upgrade list! It turns out that the flights I selected between JFK and the west coast are United p.s. (premium service) flights, meaning fancy menus, mostly business class seating, personal digital entertainment players, a few other perks to include "a complimentary United Hemispheres magazine", and an overall better travel experience than their typical domestic product. Because of this, United doesn't allow unlimited domestic upgrades (the free upgrades they normally give out to their Premier members, or Complimentary Premier Upgrades -CPU's as they're known post-merger). Luckily, my dad is a Million Mile flier and the recipient of 2 Regional Premier Upgrades each year, which he seldom to never uses, so with his blessings (and his RPU's) and my good luck, I might get to enjoy a free lunch after all in business class between LAX and JFK, and who knows, maybe even free dinner on the return JFK to SFO. I'll be sure to let you know.

My husband and I flew p.s. to New York back in 2007, and it was quite an experience. Under similar circumstances, we had traded in some certs I had from the night I spent in the Hong Kong airport (I'll save that story for another time) and scored a pair of $65 round trip tickets to New York. Back in the day before UDU's, we also redeemed some of our 500-mile certificates that United used to give out in order to upgrade to business class. It was a good deal. The service was great, I remember the food was fabulous (by airplane standards at least), and I'm almost certain we drank more than our tickets' worth of alcohol. Those days seem like ancient history, B.C. (before critter), but I'm pretty sure we finished all their Jack before we started on the Disaronno.

SMF-LAX-JFK-SFO-SMF (same day turn)
Ticket price: $0
Mileage earned:  6061 EQM's (9091 RDM's or redeemable miles based on my current Premier Gold status)
The opportunity to take home a truly FREE "complimentary" copy of the United Hemispheres magazine where Jeff Smisek apologizes: PRICELESS

New York 2007
update: LAX-JFK upgrade just cleared!

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